ON THE SOAPBOX:

Fears of Eminent Domain

by Lynda Lambert

Entities that were thought to have been organized to plan sensible development or to work on behalf of communities--such as Baltimore Development Corporation, Charles Village Community Benefits District, and Greater Homewood Community Corporation--are now thought by many to simply be facilitators for developers' whims. Whether that's true or not, there is no question that Baltimore's residents feel that they are under seige.
Baltimore has become a battleground. It is now a place where you have to fight every day to make sure that your home isn't in too good an area, in too popular an area, or in an area that is convenient to Hopkins, Loyola, or some other institution that might want to expand and, therefore, take possession of your house.

That is, if you're lucky enough to even get a house. Small developers, with their liquid assets and their paid renovation crews, are out there every day buying up properties. Regular people, with their mortgages and their contingencies, can't compete. And, because of developers, prices are going up. Tax assessments will soon follow.

Big developers, on the other hand, don't have to diddle around buying this or that house. They can simply present a plan to the City, and if the City likes it, the powers-that-be can impose upon you to sell your property by "right" of eminent domain.

Actually, the City fell short of authorizing the acquisition of private residential properties by eminent domain on their last go ‘round, but community activists are fearful that the City Council may (wittingly or unwittingly) approve such acquisitions in the future.

And of course, there's always Planned Unit Developments (PUDs) to protect you and your property once you get it. Or rather, they were supposed to protect you. Residents now have to be pro-active to make sure that developers stick to the Planned Unit Developments that were hammered out with communty groups.

Ever since Charles Villagers learned in May of this year that "anything is permitted that is not expressly excluded," the concept of a PUD is now viewed by many activists as essentially meaning nothing. When Struever Brothers, Eccles &amo; Rouse can change a block renovation (under an existing PUD) into a block demolition and then into a 10-story tower, you know that PUDs are useless.

In fact, the imposition on neighborhoods of developers and development has gotten so bad that a few neighborhood associations in North Baltimore are thinking of banding together for massive fund-raising efforts. No, not to raise money for Little League or park beautification, but for a legal fund to hire attorneys when neighborhoods or individuals need to fight in court against developers and the City.

This is becoming viewed as necessary because each individual, each street, and each neighborhood is now fighting alone. City and neighborhood entities that were thought to have been organized to plan sensible development or to work on behalf of communities--such as Baltimore Development Corporation, Charles Village Community Benefits District, and Greater Homewood Community Corporation--are now thought by many to simply be facilitators for developers' whims.

Whether that's true or not, there is no question that Baltimore's residents feel that they are under seige, and there is nothing less at stake than Baltimore City herself. Her cityscape, her historic footprint, her ambiance, and her livability are all in jeopardy.

Yes, crime is a big, big problem... and so are drugs, lousy schools, potholes, and lots of other stuff. Development is not a cure for these; it is simply another disease. And, perhaps, a fatal one.


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This story was published on August 15, 2003.